Media and Perspective

That afternoon, the church was packed, thanks to the television, newspaper, and radio, though not so much the Internet.  According to the media, the water along all the beaches was “rising at an alarming rate!” and pushing into the lagoon.  Government buildings and independent businesses were all “closed until further notice!”  There had been an “excruciatingly loud racket tumbling off the ocean.”  Something was amiss, and everyone was getting ready for whatever would come next.  (58)

Throughout Lagoon, we are presented with a staggering multitude of perspectives and, on more than one occasion, multiple accounts of the same event.  In doing so, Okorafor very clearly provides readers with the idea that simply because two people witnessed the same occurrence does not mean that they will interpret that occurrence the same way; in fact, Lagoon almost seems to posit that it is impossible for one person to absorb something in the same way as another.  The presence of the media in the novel only complicates this.  In the passage above, it can be garnered from the three separate quotations that there are multiple outlets reporting on the events taking place in Lagos, and the fact that there are clashing reports–all engendering paranoia of some sort–demonstrates the way in which a different perspective on an event can work towards obscuring that event just as much as it could work toward elucidating it.  In spite of all the information the people of Lagos are being given, nothing is concrete- and as a result, they are not preparing for any danger in specific, only “whatever would come next”.

Abrupt Romance

No one had touched her for three years.  She had not wanted anyone to touch her…  Obsidian could not know how attractive he was to her- young, probably younger than she was, clean, asking for what he wanted rather than demanding it (100).

Within the context of a dystopia, a romance tends to provide some level of hope; the idea that human beings are still capable of loving one another, even in spite of whatever trials and tribulations they may be facing, is a tantalizing comfort.  Blade Runner and Speech Sounds both use this tactic, though the effects of the ways in which these relationships are started are incredibly different.  Whereas the quick coupling of Obsidian and Rye is described quite clearly as being consensual, as demonstrated by the scene in Obsidian’s car, the romance–if it could be described as such–between Rachael and Deckard is rather uncomfortable to watch.  The manner in which he forces her to kiss him is jarring, to say the least, and is so drastically different from Obsidian “asking…rather than demanding”.  Both relationships are abrupt in their inception, bringing about the sense that these people are desperate for the comfort that a romance can bring within their respective circumstances and settings.  However, Speech Sounds uses the quick creation and destruction of its romance to engender a sense of uncertainty–regarding in particular the ephemeral nature of happiness and security in Rye’s world–while Blade Runner uses Rachael and Deckard’s relationship to further blur the definition of what makes a human a human (for is it not inhuman, animalistic, to force oneself onto another person, or even an android?) and add to the sinister, gritty tone of the film.

Is Deckard Really Human?

“Then,” Miss Luft said, “you must be an android.”

That stopped him; he stared at her.

“Because,” she continued, “your job is to kill them, isn’t it?  You’re what they call-”  She tried to remember.

“A bounty hunter,” Rick said.  “But I’m not an android.”

…”Maybe there was once a human who looked like you, and somewhere along the line you killed him and took his place.  And your superiors don’t know.”  She smiled.  As if inviting him to agree.

“Let’s get on with the test,” he said, getting out the sheets of questions.

Dick, 101-102

The conversation that Deckard has with Luba Luft at this point in the novel is particularly interesting due to the fact that she so cavalierly brings to the forefront the idea that Deckard could very well be an android himself.  With this, an important question can be asked: would Deckard in fact be able to pass the empathy test even if he was not an android?  Compared to the other humans and androids we have met thus far in the novel, he truly does not seem to possess a remarkable deal of empathy, and the fact that some humans with low empathy scores can be killed in the place of an android is indeed brought up when Deckard is interrogating Rachael.  Does he recognize that he, as human, is not a particularly exemplary example of one?

Further, although his contempt for andys is made quite clear, given the dense aura of paranoia and suspicion that Dick has already so beautifully executed by the time Luft and Deckard converse, it would be foolish for us as readers to ignore the possibility that Deckard may not be what he seems, either- even though it truly does not seem to be the case.  However, through the suspicion of Deckard’s questionable status as human, we can further examine what it means to be human–both as readers today and as people living in a post-World War Terminus San Francisco–and why exactly we choose these certain characteristics to determine whether or not others are deemed worthy of being labeled as “human”.

Greta as Necessary Entertainer

I am dead in some ways, but don’t let that bother you- I am lively enough in others.  If you met me in the cosmos, you would be more apt to yak with me or try to pick me up than to ask a cop to do same or a father to douse me with holy water, unless you are one of those hard-boiled reformer types.  But you are not likely to meet me in the cosmos, because (bar Basin Street and the Prater) 15th Century Italy and Augustan Rome–until they spoiled it–are my favorite (Ha!) vacation spots, and as I have said, I stick as close to the Place as I can.  It is really the nicest Place in the whole Change World.  (Crisis!  I even think of it capitalized!) – page 9

The vast majority of the humor in the first part of The Big Time comes directly from Greta in her capacity as narrator; her observations of the odd cosmos she inhabits and the way in which she relays them to us are as charming as one would hope for from an Entertainer such as herself.  In this particular passage, she acknowledges the ridiculous nature of her situation (as not wholly alive–at least as we understand alive–but still, of course, able to tell the story) and turns it on its head for the sake of comforting the readers.  Rather, she makes herself into as lovable and harmless a character as Illy by twisting her status as Demon, dead, into a silly quirk.  After all, how could you think of someone who teasingly accuses readers of, upon meeting her, either wanting to “yak with [her] or pick [her] up” as a threat?  Her constant self-interruptions present her as endearingly human, too, and make the narrative–particularly in the beginning–come across as more of a journal entry or even as a casual, oral account.  More than that, the way in which Greta tells her story makes it feel all the more real; she puts so much of herself into her delivery of it, all her funny passing thoughts and candid sentiments and genuine emotions, and as a result it becomes quite difficult to experience the story without her humor as the plot progresses into far more serious territory.

Utopian Sameness

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and Leslie F. Stone’s The Conquest of Gola are both set within—arguable—utopias and end with the quelling of rebellions that threaten to disrupt the status quo. In We, there is so much sameness that permeates what appears to be a relatively large population that not only are the members of this population numbered, but even our narrator does not take the time to focus upon the characteristics that make his cohorts different from him until later on in the book- and, by that point, the differences he sees are driving him near-insane and leading him towards rebellion against OneState. The Conquest of Gola presents a matriarchal race that immediately dismisses the entrance of another people due to the fact that they are “barbarians” with “poorly organized bod[ies]”; the narrator then says, upon meeting this new race, that these Dextalans must be “envious of [the Golans’] beautiful golden coats, [their] movable eyes, [their] power to scent, hear, and touch with any part of the body…” (1282). This reminded me of the first time that D-503 sees the people who live beyond the wall; he reacts with the same mix of pity and wonder, pondering how these people manage to thrive outside of the confines of OneState while simultaneously recognizing that there is some appeal to being this particular kind of “barbarian”. Further, the narrator in The Conquest of Gola also acknowledges that the Golans were “without a doubt…freaks to those freakish Dextalans”, again making quite clear that there are immovable differences between the two peoples while also making light of the almost automatic recognition of that racial disconnect. What I found particularly interesting was that although The Conquest of Gola is certainly more of a story about a female-dominated race successfully reigning superior, the editor included the following descriptor, found in the middle of the narrative columns:

“Americans are fond of ridiculing the customs, habits, and temperaments of people of other nations. Similarly other nations pick our peculiarities as a source of amusement. We all think that what we do, think or say is natural and inevitable, and that the actions of others are ‘queer’” (1280).

From this, as well as with both Zamyatin’s and Stone’s portrayals of their respective settings, a question arises: are utopias only possible when they are populated with homogeneity? And, consequently, are they only threatened when an “other” emerges to challenge their sameness?

Dangerous Nostalgia

“And now we stopped in front of the mirror.  At that moment all I could see were her eyes.  An idea hit me: The way the human body is built, it’s just as stupid as those ‘apartments’- human heads are opaque and there’s no way to see inside except through those tiny little windows, the eyes.  She seemed to guess what I was thinking and turned around.  ‘Well, here are my eyes.  What do you think?’  (Without actually saying this, of course.)

I saw before me two ominously dark windows, and inside there was another life, unknown.  All I could see was a flame–there was some sort of ‘fireplace’ inside–and some figures, that looked…

That would be natural, of course.  What I saw there was my own reflection.  But it was not natural and it did not look like me (apparently the surroundings were having a depressing effect).  I felt absolutely afraid, I felt trapped, shut into that wild cage, I felt myself swept into the wild whirlwind of ancient life.”

Record 6, page 28-29

Although it could be argued that D-503 is weakened (albeit near-imperceptibly) in his beliefs prior to his first visit to the Ancient House, it is this trip that truly brings about a sense that his foundation is being shaken- entirely due to, it seems, the machinations of the mysterious I-330.  This passage in particular draws attention to his obvious, dutiful disgust for the things of the past–and, more specifically, the things that are illegal in OneState–but it also highlights his fascination with them.  He does not outright express any such sentiment, but it is more than evident in the tone of his account, particularly when he trails off, describing the scene he ‘witnesses’ behind I-330’s eyes.  There is an inarguable amount of reverence in it.  At this point in the narrative (still relatively early on), it would be acceptable to expect that he is not anywhere near ready to change.  However, the way in which he faithfully records his discovery of “another life, unknown” and the “wild whirlwind of ancient life” seems so charmingly accidental–on the part of D-503, certainly not on the part of Zamyatin–and it could be seen as almost akin to the way in which someone might inadvertently reveal their romantic feelings for another.  From this, Zamyatin provides readers with a common trope found in many dystopian novels: nostalgia for a time long before the story takes place that, in the narrative’s current environment, is strictly forbidden for the sake of the maintenance of order.  Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 exemplifies this.

D-503, from this point forward, becomes a character that we want to see tainted and drawn away from the norms of his restrictive society; we need him to be freed from the shackles of his banality because we very desperately want him to return to the comforts of ‘before’, of our own society, of normalcy within individuality.  “Me”, rather, instead of “We”.  D-503 is viciously torn between his current state, upon which he frequently rains unconditional praise, and the scary unknown that I-330 continues to push him into as the novel progresses, and it is this internal and external conflict that propels the narrative forward.  Moreover, his records become far more vibrant (albeit panicked and filled with inner turmoil) due to this forbidden nostalgia he has been so mercilessly infected with.  As a result, We is able to engender a sense of suspense and dread–a feeling almost inseparable from the dystopian genre–with regard to D-503’s fate as an admirer of the ‘ancient world’ in this harshly-regimented new one.

Character Titles- from the Magazine to the Novel

Upon examining the first section of The Time Machine as it was published in The National Observer in March 1894, one of the most jarring changes is inarguably the lack of proper titles for the various characters- with the exception, of course, of the Time Traveler, who in this version of the story is instead referred to as the “Philosophical Inventor”.  The red-haired man remains as described in both iterations of Wells’s work, but others—the Very Young Man and the Provincial Mayor, for example—are reduced to lower-case titles.  Further, some of the characters are completely absent; where is Filby, the Medical Man, the Psychologist?  Who is the “common-sense person”, and why has the narrator contributed nothing to the conversation outside of the opening, unspoken description of the setting?  Above all- what motivated Wells to add in his seemingly unnecessary capitalizations of these characters’ titles in his novel, and why did he decide to bring more characters into the mix when the few present in edition of The National Observer seemed to carry out the conversation perfectly well on their own?  One could argue that “naming” the characters with a simple attribute—be it their profession or the color of their hair—adds a sort of science-fiction mystique to them; “the psychologist” is expected and mundane, whereas “the Psychologist” immediately seems to be capable of far more than his lower-case counterpart.  Further, the smaller group of men could simply be due to a word limit imposed by the publication, and the increase in numbers present in the novel contributes in a way to the legitimization of the Time Traveler’s thoughts and machine.  Rather, the fact that so many thoughtful, educated people are held captive by their own curiosity in the vicinity of the Time Traveler makes the possibility of time travel feel all the more real (although the version in The National Observer is nearly just as convincing).  As such, it could be said that Wells may have simplified his cast of characters in the version he delivered to The National Observer for the sheer sake of drawing readers’ attention to the content of the dialogue rather than who exactly was delivering said dialogue.